BioCycle June 2016
The ReFED “Roadmap To Reduce Food Waste By 20 Percent” (Roadmap) was released on March 9, and very quickly became the go-to document for data on all things food waste — from produce left in the fields to the economic value of centralized composting and anaerobic digestion (AD) of food waste. The ReFED project — ReThink Food Waste Through Economics And Data — was launched in 2015. Members of the lead team authored an excellent article on the Roadmap.
I represented BioCycle as a member of the ReFED Advisory Council and participated in a number of discussions and review of the final Roadmap draft. In short, I was very familiar with the assumptions and findings. Several weeks ago, I received a call from an integrated anaerobic digestion and composting project developer, who is in the capital-raising phase for his facility, which will be processing food waste along with other organics. During the conversation, he commented that he was hesitant to share the findings of the Roadmap with potential funders. He specifically cited the Marginal Food Waste Abatement Cost Curve, because it assigns a low economic value to centralized composting and AD.
Coincidentally, the next day, I presented in a webinar hosted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The state is developing a strategic plan for organic waste management. Hunt Briggs of Resource Recycling Systems and a coauthor of this month’s Roadmap article, highlighted the project’s findings. When discussing the cost abatement curve, he explained a key assumption used in evaluating the economic value of prevention, recovery and recycling solutions for food waste, which is captured in the article: “The net Economic Value and cost-effectiveness of prevention and recovery, which capture the value of edible food, are many times higher than those gained from recycling food scraps. This is because food, once wasted by consumers, is worth 25 to 50 times less than its original retail value.”
Bam! I finally truly understood why composting and AD are rated as the best options for diversion potential and scalability, but lowest in terms of economic value. And this gets to the heart of the Roadmap economic analysis — an apple, with its nutrition and all the embedded resources to grow, process, package, transport and distribute it, has a much higher value when it is used as food. An apple that is grown but wasted loses its value as a food.
The reality is that the food supply chain has good apples and bad apples. And the value of that bad apple, when composted or digested, with the resulting compost or digestate returned to the soil, goes up significantly. It is the responsibility of the composting and AD industries, along with strategic partners, to use the same rigorous analytical tools employed by the ReFED team, to calculate all the imbedded value in the products of these manufacturing processes: biogas, compost, digestate, heat, soil organic matter, plant nutrients, water savings, methane emissions reduction, carbon sequestration, engineered soils — and that’s just off the top of my head.
The ReFED team did not ignore the value of these products. It was beyond the scope of the Roadmap project. Betsy and Jesse Fink, trustees of the Fink Family Foundation, wrote in the Foreword to the Roadmap: “The Roadmap is just the beginning. In order to succeed, we need to crowdsource even more information and solutions.”
We now know a lot more about the good apples. We also know that bad apples (inedible) make good soil to grow more good apples. That is the opportunity to create Economic Value.